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Gardeners Can Enjoy Greenhouse Effect

* Endive, kale, Swiss chard and others provide flavor and nutrients many store-bought vegetables can't deliver.

October 14, 2000|JULIE BAWDEN DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When the weather cools and the days shorten, endive, kale and other greens become stars of the garden.

"Greens respond really well to the cold weather. Seeds germinate easily now and transplants take off quickly," said Cheryl Jonsson, nursery coordinator for the Friends of the Fullerton Arboretum. The arboretum is holding its annual Arborfest & Plant Sale today and Sunday, where a variety of greens will be available.

Grow these plants and you can experience new taste sensations from their edible leaves and stems, Jonsson said.

"Many of the greens, like the mesclun mixes, are very delicate and don't travel well to supermarket shelves, so they can only be experienced if you grow them yourself," she said.

Even greens sold in stores are not as tasty or sweet as home-grown ones because they've been bred for transportability rather than flavor, said Renee Shepherd, owner of Fleton, Calif.-based Renee's Garden seeds, which are sold at many local nurseries.

Of all crops, greens are one of the most versatile. "They can be used in every type of cuisine," said Shepherd, who wrote and published "Recipes From a Kitchen Garden" ($13).

Most can be eaten raw.

"You can eat greens fresh, use them for stir-fries and soups, in sandwiches and mixed into main dishes," she said. "They combine well with winter foods like potatoes, sweet potatoes and roasts."

Picked fresh, greens are also nutritious, said Newport Beach registered dietitian Lisa Licavoli. "They are an excellent source of vitamins and nutrients, including vitamin K, which is not found in many other foods," she said. "Greens have been shown to reduce the risk of a variety of health problems, including macular degeneration and cataracts, breast cancer, high blood pressure and heart disease."

Another benefit? They're attractive. Many greens make colorful, ornamental additions to the garden. 'Bright Lights' Swiss chard has sweet, crunchy leaf stalks that grow in a rainbow of vivid colors, including yellow, crimson, gold, pink, white and orange.

Greens can be planted now through early spring. While some greens can be found as transplants in nurseries, many must be grown from seed.

They do well in the ground and containers.

Here are a few planting tips:

* Choose a full sun location with good drainage. In the ground, amend with homemade or bagged compost and pumice or perlite. For container plants, add additional perlite or pumice to the potting soil.

* When transplanting, don't disturb the root system of the plant. Gently pull the plant from the container and slip into the soil.

* Sprinkle seed on top of the soil and cover with a fine layer of light soil or vermiculite.

"It is important not to cover small seeds too deeply, especially lettuce seeds, which need light to germinate," Jonsson said.

You can be generous with the seeds without worrying that plants will crowd each other because you'll pick them when they're small.

* Plant in succession. For a constant supply of greens throughout the fall, winter and spring, plant new seeds or transplants every two to three weeks.

* Keep greens moist. Remember that container plants will dry out much more quickly than ground-grown ones.

* Feed regularly. Greens prefer a constant source of nitrogen. Feed weekly with a well-balanced liquid fertilizer at one-fourth strength. Or add slow-release fertilizer at planting time.

* Harvest when greens are young and tender. If you wait too long, they become bitter and tough. Start cutting when they reach 2 to 3 inches tall.

Cut them about a half-inch from the bottom of each plant. They will send up new leaves.

For a store in your area that carries Renee's Garden seeds, call (888) 880-7228. Seeds and recipe books are available on the Web at http://www.reneesgarden.com .cq/dge

Plant Sale This Weekend

* The Arborfest & Fall Plant Sale is today and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Fullerton Arboretum, 1900 Associated Road, Fullerton. Admission is $5 for adults; free for children 17 and younger. Parking is free. For information, call (714) 278-3579.

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